Advertisement

Pain: Is It All in the Brain or the Heart?

  • Ali M. AlshamiEmail author
Hot Topics in Pain and Headache (N Rosen, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Hot Topics in Pain and Headache

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Scientists have reported that pain is always created by the brain. This may not be entirely true. Pain is not only a sensory experience, but also can be associated with emotional, cognitive, and social components. The heart is considered the source of emotions, desire, and wisdom. Therefore, the aim of this article was to review the available evidence about the role of the heart in pain modulation.

Recent Findings

Dr. Armour, in 1991, discovered that the heart has its “little brain” or “intrinsic cardiac nervous system.” This “heart brain” is composed of approximately 40,000 neurons that are alike neurons in the brain, meaning that the heart has its own nervous system. In addition, the heart communicates with the brain in many methods: neurologically, biochemically, biophysically, and energetically. The vagus nerve, which is 80% afferent, carries information from the heart and other internal organs to the brain. Signals from the “heart brain” redirect to the medulla, hypothalamus, thalamus, and amygdala and the cerebral cortex. Thus, the heart sends more signals to the brain than vice versa. Research has demonstrated that pain perception is modulated by neural pathways and methods targeting the heart such as vagus nerve stimulation and heart-rhythm coherence feedback techniques.

Summary

The heart is not just a pump. It has its neural network or “little brain.” The methods targeting the heart modulate pain regions in the brain. These methods seem to modulate the key changes that occur in the brain regions and are involved in the cognitive and emotional factors of pain. Thus, the heart is probably a key moderator of pain.

Keywords

Brain Emotion Heart Hurt Pain 

Abbreviations

CNS

central nervous system

HRV

heart rate variability

VNS

vagus nerve stimulation

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest relevant to this manuscript.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

References

Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.
    Moseley L. No brain, no pain: it is in the mind, so test results can make it worse [Internet]. 2015. Available from: https://bodyinmind.org/no-brain-no-pain/. Accessed 3 Sep 2018.
  2. 2.
    Louw A. Treating the brain in chronic pain. In: Fernández-de-lasPeñas C, Cleland JA, Dommerholt J, editors. Manual therapy for musculoskeletal pain syndromes: an evidence- and clinical-informed approach. London: Elsevier; 2016. p. 66–75.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    • Frangos E, Richards EA, Bushnell MC. Do the psychological effects of vagus nerve stimulation partially mediate vagal pain moedulation? Neurobiol Pain. 2017;1:37-45. A good review on the effects of vagus nerve stimulation on pain perception and psychological factors. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    •• McCraty R. Science of the heart: exploring the role of the heart in human performance. Boulder Creek: HeartMath Institute; 2015. A very good review that explore interesting aspects of the science of the heart in the fields of psychophysiology and neurocardiology including pain perception. Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Crofford LJ. Chronic pain: where the body meets the brain. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2015;126:167–83.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Watkins A. Coherence: the secret science of brilliant leadership. London: Kogan Page Ltd; 2014.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Armour JA. Neurocardiology: anatomical and functional principles. Institute of HeartMath: Boulder Creek; 2003.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    McCraty R, Atkinson M, Tomasino D, Bradley RT. The coherent heart: heart–brain interactions, psychophysiological coherence, and the emergence of system-wide order. Integral Review. 2009;5:10–115.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    De Couck M, Nijs J, Gidron Y. You may need a nerve to treat pain: the neurobiological rationale for vagal nerve activation in pain management. Clin J Pain. 2014;30:1099–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical Therapy, College of Applied Medical SciencesImam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal UniversityDammamSaudi Arabia

Personalised recommendations